Former heavyweight champ Tommy Morrison dies at 44
Tommy Morrison's career reached its pinnacle on a hot June night in Las Vegas, when he stepped into the ring and beat George Foreman to become heavyweight champion.
It reached its nadir when he tested positive for HIV three years later.
The last 20 years of the brash boxer's life would be defined by extensive legal troubles, erratic behavior, and mounting health problems. Mr. Morrison would later claim that he never tested positive for the virus that causes AIDS, even as he was hospitalized during the last days of his life.
Mr. Morrison died Sunday night at a Nebraska hospital. He was 44.
His longtime promoter, Tony Holden, confirmed that "The Duke" had died, but his wife, Trisha, did not disclose the cause of death. Mr. Morrison got his nickname based on a claim that he was the grandnephew of John Wayne.
Mr. Morrison was a prodigious puncher whose bid to fight in the 1988 Seoul Olympics ended at the hands of Ray Mercer, who later dealt him his first professional loss. Along the way, Mr. Morrison became such a recognizable face that he was cast in Rocky V alongside Sylvester Stallone.
Mr. Morrison won his first 28 professional fights, beating faded champions such as Pinklon Thomas along the way. He hit it big in Vegas in the summer of 1993 - a unanimous decision over Foreman, then in the midst of his comeback - to claim a vacant world title.
As with so many things in Mr. Morrison's life, the good was quickly followed by the bad.
Mr. Morrison was in line for a high-profile bout with Lennox Lewis when he was upset by unheralded fighter Michael Bentt in Tulsa, Okla., not far from where Mr. Morrison was raised. He was knocked down three times and the fight was called before the first round ended.
The loss meant a potential $7.5 million payday for a title unification fight simply vanished.
"I zigged when I should have zagged," Mr. Morrison said afterward. "It's one of those situations you have to live with and learn from it. I'll be back."
Mr. Morrison indeed came back, but he was never the same feared fighter. He beat a bunch of long shots and faded stars over the next couple of years before getting knocked out by Lewis in the sixth round.
That fight was in October 1995. By February, Mr. Morrison had tested positive for HIV. Mr. Morrison's license was quickly suspended by Nevada, and the ban was, in effect, upheld by every other sanctioning body. Mr. Morrison said at a news conference in 1996 that he'd never fight again, blaming his plight on a "permissive, fast and reckless lifestyle."
His lifestyle never changed, though, even when he stepped away from the ring.
He had already run afoul of the law in 1993, when he pleaded guilty to assaulting a college student. He also dealt with weapons charges and multiple DUI incidents over the years.
Mr. Morrison was finally sentenced to two years in prison in 2000, and another year was added to his sentence in 2002 for violating parole.
When he was released, Mr. Morrison said his HIV tests were in fact false positives, and he wanted to resume his career. He passed medical tests in Arizona and returned to the ring. Mr. Morrison fought twice more in his career, winning once in West Virginia and for the final time in Mexico. He finished with a record of 48-3-1 with 42 knockouts.